Hey, UMC. We need to talk.
Next month, it will be twenty-three years since I was baptized in a United Methodist church in Kansas City; eleven years since I was confirmed at Alliance United Methodist in Fort Worth. A huge chunk of my brain is devoted to the hymns and liturgies of my childhood, which I learned in Sunday school rooms in Methodist churches across Missouri and Texas.
In college I went to the Texas Wesley, a United Methodist campus ministry at UT. The Rio Texas Conference of the UMC almost sent me to seminary to be a pastor. My parents still attend the church I grew up in: my mom is a Stephen minister; my dad teaches Sunday school.
But I’m breaking up with you, you beautiful mess of a denomination.
It’s not you, it’s me.
I’ve never broken up with someone before, but I’ve heard this is what you say. It is half true.
It started out as about me, really. About halfway through my college career, I lost the language to talk to God. Then I lost the language to talk about God. I started going to Servant Church, a Methodist church plant with beautiful liturgy, new hymns that sound old and old hymns that sound new. Growing up in a town where every church looks and talks and feels a little bit Baptist, Servant Church shocked me a little, taught me a new way to do church, but it didn’t fill the void.
Then, the World Race, where I had to cobble together words for God that would translate into eleven different languages. In Eastern Europe, I found the Book of Common Prayer and I read the whole thing cover to cover. (Apparently, that’s not how you’re supposed to do it. Ignorance is bliss, my dudes.) I longed for even the simplest of liturgies at churches across southern Africa, and I applied to the Episcopal Service Corps because their application questions made me weep at three in the morning on a balcony in Colombia.
We just grew apart. Maybe it was inevitable; maybe I could have worked harder to hold onto our relationship. I believed in us, after all.
But I needed something more: a way of worshipping that better reflected how I relate to God; a language for prayer when I had none; a way to move between ancient tradition and this modern world that did not tear me in two. I found it, unexpectedly, in the Episcopal church.
This is where it becomes about you.
When I came out six months ago, I knew the risks. The Rio Texas Conference would almost certainly never ordain me: while I was in college, two seminarians’ ordination processes were blocked because of their gender or sexuality. One of them was my friend, who has since moved to a different state to find a job in a church that would affirm his calling.
I could no longer get married in the church I grew up in. I was now an “issue” in the church, “divisive,” “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Former youth group members tried to “lovingly correct” my theology on Facebook, and people told me they loved me even if they disagreed with my “politics and theology.” My very being was now a stance to disagree with.
I am not leaving the United Methodist Church because of my sexuality, or because of your stance on it. There are over 140 LGBTQ+ clergy in the UMC, including an openly lesbian, married bishop named Karen Oliveto, whose consecration is currently being debated by the Judicial Council. LGBT people exist and thrive in United Methodist congregations all around the world, whether or not we are welcomed.
But I am leaving you, and the threatened schism over sexuality and gender was the final straw.
Maybe leaving makes me a coward. There is a constant debate in my head: how can I leave the UMC, when I could stay and fight the good fight for my peers and for future generations? How can I stay in the UMC, when my sexuality is not the only thing that defines me?
Here is what else defines me: the call I felt when I was seventeen and still do not fully understand. The group text with the friends I met in Sunday school when I was nine. Eleven months in eleven countries and eight months in a state so different from Texas it might as well be a different country. How you taught me to love with open hands and moving feet and a broken heart, strangely warmed by the Spirit.
Do you see how badly I want to stay? Do you see why I can’t?
How difficult it is, to lose a love like you. There are thousands of whispered prayers and lightbulb moments and layers upon layers of grace between us. Communion will always taste sweet like Hawaiian bread and grape juice.
Here is fair warning: I’m going to be your psycho ex. I am going to stalk your Instagram and read every article about you. You were the church that taught me how to love, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully divest from you.
But in three weeks, two days after my twenty-third birthday, I’ll be confirmed in the Episcopal Church.
Last Sunday, I preached at Saint Margaret’s, the Episcopal church where I’ve worked for the past eight months. For the first time in my life, I stood confidently behind a lectern. I did not shake. I talked about resurrection.
Later, the dean at St. Mark’s asked me how it felt. The truth, which I did not say to him, is that it felt like home. It cut me raw in that moment: for all the excuses I could use to leave the UMC, the truth is that we truly no longer fit together.
I love you, United Methodism. But I need to go home now.